Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post Election Post

I haven't written a blog post in a long time. Partly because I'm so busy and exhausted all the time. I am at camp 8-9 hours a day, usually six days a week, often doing physically demanding tasks. But also because this camp is so different--the days run together, one after another, with a sameness that somehow defies description. Yes, there are moments, and stories I've thought about writing, but been too tired. Then when I do have a little time the stories seem lost in the routines of the days. We have a meeting. We might work in food distribution at lunch or dinner--all the tasks around food distribution are mentally (explaining for the millionth time why we can't give a box of sugary juice for every member of the family--we simply don't have enough to go around) or physically (bending to count out apples or onions, prepackaged bread or "cake" they get for breakfast--shades of the French revolution! "Let them eat cake,"--if you're working on packing the boxes) exhausting, or both (making impossible decisions and bending and lifting and carrying if supervising).

We may work clothing (which I avoid like the plague) running back and forth, in and out of a shipping container trying to find one shirt, one pair of pants, one sweater, one pair of shoes... that both fits the "customer" and is to their taste--not to mention bras, underwear, socks, pajamas--for each member of first one family and then another.

We may work with Little Squirrels--our equivalent to day care--or Big Squirrels--6 and up--or work in bike workshop fixing the broken wrecks of bikes many of the children have. We may teach yoga, turn a jumprope, set up a movie--without always having the right equipment--run a women's group, guard a women's or adults' space (from the seemingly thousands of bored disruptive children or the young men who just want a glimpse of a woman exercising), bring out the chess and backgammon boards, run a dance class, run an art class, run a sewing workshop...

I sometimes think that trying to alleviate the boredom of many months in a refugee camp is the single biggest challenge we face that we, as volunteers, have any power to affect.

And so the days run together and I've been here over two months already.

But today, today was different. At least for me.

Today I came to the camp after a day at the Embassy, voting, and reminding me of how when I was a kid anyone could just walk right into the American Embassy anywhere in the world (citizen or not) and state their business, and of how now to enter the fortress requires searches and passport... I came into the camp after a night of relentlessly watching the election returns for President of the United States, my computer screen split between a map with a running map of trending and won states, red and blue, and a map showing how many electoral votes each state carried. I watched Trump come out of the starting gate fast, and painfully slowly, but steadily, rack up the numbers until it was over. By that time it was about 8:30 am here in Athens and I had been up all night. Trump had won. Both houses of Congress were Republican.

I wasn't, and still am not, a Clinton supporter. But the reality of Trump in the Whitehouse--Trump in control of the nuclear, subnuclear, chemical, biological, laser, and conventional weapons that both parties have so using so cavalierly for so long (in Iraq for longer than the US was in Vietnam) is a sobering thought.

And I carried that exhaustion and that fear to a refugee camp where about 1,500 of the tens of thousands (in mainland Greece alone) of refugees created by those US policies and practices reside in semi-squalor, bored, hopeless, and alienated through no fault of their own. And I carried the burden of American citizenship with me. I knew that I wasn't up to playing games. I thought maybe I would hide away in the shipping container we call Area 51 (because its house number is Alpha 51 and it is such a mysterious black hole of curious donations--you wouldn't imagine what some people send) and sort toys by age group so we can do a toy distribution. That way I could be alone while still helping.

But then something happened. The wind had been heavy all night as it often is in Greece in winter, and as we approached camp the already grey skies grew threatening. The wind picked up, tearing at the already shredded tents we use as common areas, knocking over a portable basketball goal complete with the huge chunk of cement used to weigh it down, and kicking up a dust storm to rival any Arabian desert khamsin. The sky darkened and low, ominous clouds looked like some kind of biblical retribution for US folly.

Simone, Ellena, and I headed for yet another storage shed to retrieve the rain ponchos we had sorted for distribution and the clouds broke, deluging us with horizontally slashing rain and small pellets of hail. We ran back and forth through the gravel bottomed pools the paths had become, carrying boxes and bags and handsful of rain ponchos, handing them out to anybody caught out in the storm, and especially to those waiting, without shelter, at clothing distribution, at food distribution. Two strong young refugee men joined us--one of whom, a Palestinian, has become a particular friend. Within minutes I was soaked through. I had started the walk over without my jacket, but I don't know how much good it would have done anyway. Hours later, my shoes are still sodden and my pants soaked to above the knees. My shirt hangs drying on the doorknob.

But I got to help. I got to do something that had an immediate positive impact on the lives of the residents I had come to help. And I felt like, in just the tiniest way, for just a moment, I had atoned.

I needed that today.